By Darrell Etherington Dec. 21, 2011
Finding good Bluetooth headphones is a pain, and even big names with strong reputations in audio don’t always come through for this category. But niche headphone maker Jaybird has done a terrific job with its Freedom headset, which is most at home in the gym, where we might all be spending a lot of time in a couple of weeks working off turkey dinners and fruit cake.
Workout advantages that work well in any situation
The Jaybird Freedom is designed to be used during strenuous physical activity. That’s why they’re sweat-proof, a claim Jaybird backs with a lifetime warranty. That’s also why they feature unique, removable silicon cushions to prevent in-ear shifting. With three sizes of ear buds, three sizes of silicon cushions, and even a pair of over-ear loops, you’re bound to be able to come up with a combination that suits your ear shape.
For me, the largest buds and in-ear cushions were what worked, and they worked very well. Once secured in my ears, the Freedoms weren’t going anywhere, either on the treadmill or bundled up and out for a brisk winter run with the dog. I’m very picky about the fit of in-ear headsets, and the Jaybird manages to satisfy my needs in terms of security and comfort, in a package that also doesn’t make you look like a total weirdo.
Both the stability and the water resistance are awesome features in and out of the gym, and alone already make the Freedom one of the better choices among stereo Bluetooth headsets in general.
Good sound for music
The other component the Jaybird Freedom has that isn’t necessarily true of the competition is very good sound for music playback. There’s a surprising amount of bass for a Bluetooth headset, but with rich sound overall, without venturing into muddy territory as some sport-oriented headphones can tend to do in pursuit of more pulse-pounding sound delivery.
Not so great call quality
Audio when using the headset for calls with an iPhone wasn’t great, particularly on the receiving end. I suspect that’s because of the mic’s location (it’s on the right pod very close to your ear — and far from your mouth). Even though it couldn’t compete with wired headsets in this regard, or with the Motorola S9-HD (which I choose for comparison over the S10-HD, which has sound quality issues in general), which I’ve used while riding a bike and still been perfectly understood, it isn’t bad enough that the Freedom is unusable for making calls. Since the Freedom is more about providing a wireless, water-resistant solution for taking to the gym, sub-par call quality doesn’t greatly bother me.
Good battery life and connectivity
The Jaybird Freedom may not beat the competition when it comes to call quality, but it does over decent battery life (at around six hours per charge) and better-than-average Bluetooth connectivity. When used outdoors, Bluetooth can be tricky with a handset stowed in a pocket and ear phones worn on the head; indoors it has lots to bounce off of, making connections easier. In wide open spaces, it might have trouble connecting, especially if there’s a big chunk of human meat in the way.
Luckily, I found that with the Freedom I could keep my iPhone in my front pocket and still have it connect pretty much constantly to the headset. The same couldn’t be said for the S9-HD, since its Bluetooth transmitter is in the neckband of the device, behind your head. The Jaybird is better designed for general use, but if you ever do run into trouble, say in a gym in a large open space, using a right arm-mounted iPhone strap when working pretty much guarantees a solid connection. They also work great with an iPad mounted to fitness equipment with the Scosche fitRAIL I reviewed earlier.
Controls take some getting used to
The controls on the Jaybird Freedom aren’t intuitive for iPhone users; the call answer button does indeed start and pause playback, but double tapping it won’t skip tracks. That’s handled by a long press of the volume up button instead. Holding volume down likewise goes back a track. Volume up/down works on the headset, independent of the iPhone, which is actually a plus in my book.
You can use Siri with the Freedom, the same way you would on most other headsets, by holding down the play/pause/answer call button for a few seconds. It works well enough, although the sub-par mic quality I mentioned above affects Siri’s ability to accurately understand requests.
Overall, I’d say the Jaybird Freedom is arguably the best Bluetooth headset available right now, especially for an MSRP of $99. The one really annoying thing about them is that Jaybird uses a proprietary USB cable to charge the device, since the port on the right earbud it plugs into has to be small to ensure everything fits in the space available. Considering how much I enjoy the headphones themselves, that just means I’ll have to be extra careful not to lose that particular component, but you can bet I’ll buy a replacement if I do.